Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Field Notes--Quick Change Tree, or I Really Do Live In Japan

Right around the bend in our road, growing on a corner of the community center where I teach my children's English classes, is a tree that I love.  I thought of it as my Pink-and-White Tree, and it reminded me of the Mallows that grew in places around Lake Tippecanoe where we used to spend summers when I was growing up.  I knew it wasn't a Marsh Mallow, but the flower seemed somehow similar, and therefore comforting.  (Marsh Mallows, as you might guess from the name, are interesting in their own right, but I haven't space to do them justice here.)

Being usually in a hurry before my classes, I was content just to feel happy upon seeing it without knowing its name (few people can tell me the names of plants or birds when I ask--a sad commentary on modern preoccupations).  This year when it bloomed, though, I generally had a camera with me (either the video camera, or my phone).  So I took a picture of it one morning, knowing my mom would like it, too.

 Lovely white flowers and buds that put me in mind of the Mallows at the lake.  If we were here walking together, I know I would show my mom this tree, hoping she would confirm my notion of its Mallow-ness (or maybe even know what it was, since she usually does--my mother is a formidable Trivial Pursuit opponent:))

I did wonder, though, why the faded flower below was pink....hmmm.... until later that afternoon on the way home from Kumon, I thought I'd take another picture in different light.  One of the pink flowers this time:

...but as I looked at it, I thought, "Wait--that's the same flower I took a shot of this morning.  Why is it pink now?  Did it change color during the day?  Am I misremembering?  Nuts?"  Thinking that last one to be the most likely explanation by far, I took one more photo and decided to check carefully the next day...

Hmmm...the buds looked white, but the flower was rose pink.  Funny, that.  The reverse is common enough--a pink bud that opens to a (mostly) white flower.  But white opening to pink?  That didn't seem right, somehow.

So the next day I double checked--and sure enough, the same flower that had been white that morning had turned rose pink by evening.  Well!  I was enchanted, let me tell you.  And, still not knowing the real name of my lovely tree, I christened it Quick-Change Tree to myself.

click to see those lovely flowers properly, won't you:)) longer white, but already pale pink...
...deep pink by late afternoon, with even darker pink faded flowers, and buds that will open white in the morning.

Scene change!

Last weekend, still afflicted with symptoms of the cough I'd had for a week and a half courtesy of my daughter, I suffered myself to be taken along with everyone to the kid's favorite park in Tsujido.  Little did I know what joy awaited.  We had a nice enough day--the weather was mostly sunny and it was warm enough to enjoy being outdoors.   My daughter was ecstatic to be allowed for the first time to ride the go-carts with her brothers (first to sixth graders only--she just started first grade). 

awww--look at that happy face:))

Watching her pedal her way around the traffic park, I was glad I decided to go that day.

Further joy was to be mine that day.  As we were leaving the park, I noticed my Quick Change Tree near the exit...and a sign bearing the name!

 ...Aha!  Suifuyou!  It didn't mean anything yet, but I knew I could look it up at home.  Still, the description confirmed what I had noticed: 
 "Pure white flowers that bloom in the morning and turn pink by evening..." 


 The bottom said something that I couldn't quite read, so I asked my husband.  He read it, looked confused, then said "Oh!" 

At this point, an explanation of the Japanese name is in order.  I suppose the best way to translate it (based on my husband's explanation to me) would be "Drunkard's Cheeks", a reference to the way many people's cheeks turn pink when they've been drinking.  White-to-Pink...get it?  As soon as he explained that to me, I smiled and laughed and pinched his cheek, because his cheeks turn pink after he's had half a beer.  A fact I discovered on our third date, when I ordered a glass of wine...and he did, too, even though he doesn't like wine particularly (that it was our third date would be the reason for his odd drink choice).  He hadn't had three sips of wine before his cheeks began to glow an adorable pink.  *So* cute--I was completely smitten.

When I got home, I fired up Japanese Wiki and put "Sui Fu You" into the search box....

... Hibiscus mutabilis ...  the Cotton Rosemallow.   *Deep sigh of contentment*  Such are the satisfactions of the simple life.

I realize that many of the things I notice and post pictures of are in fact common plants and birds and trees that you might see anywhere.  So last weekend when we went to the traffic park at Tsujido, I decided I had better use the opportunity to take some pictures at the ocean and of some other things to prove that I do, in fact, live in Japan:)) 

Hello from across the Big Pond!

Me, here.  You--waaaay over there...
Papa and kids, at play on the shores of the mighty misnamed Pacific...

Tokaido Line train--but I suppose that wouldn't really be convincing, since there are train stations all over Europe, too...

...then I thought, Aha!  European train stations...

...don't have lovely displays of Ikebana near the stairs!  That's better.  Much more convincing.  And then, walking along the platform...

...there.  See?  You know it's Japan if there are ladies in kimono walking casually around the platform...

The sunset was beautiful, and, unusually for Japan, we could see most of it.  Not so many tall buildings out at the coast to obscure the view.  But I put that picture there only because I like to share beautiful things I see with people, not because it shouts "Japan!".

 But as we were waiting for the bus, I turned around to get a last glimpse of the fading rose of the sunset, and...

...see that ghostly outline behind the lamp and the tower?  When you see that shape outlined against the sky, you know you're in Japan.  Even on hazy days, Fuji will sometimes show herself in the fading light of the dusk.  I've lived here for 13 years, and I still get all excited every time I see the Mountain.  I met my husband on the summit, after all...

Mata asobou, ne!


  1. Marsh Mallow is a plant? I never knew that. I thought it was just a sweet. It never occurred to me to wonder about the name, either, but it should have. I mean, a confection apparently named after a swamp should have piqued my curiosity.

    BTW, you appear to have a small person attached to your handbag. Is it some form of good-luck charm?

  2. Marsh Mallow is indeed a plant--and the original confection was made with mashed up plant:)) The Wiki link up top goes to the Mallow page, which has a nice description:))

    (Laughing)--just noticed that Koshi standing a ways behind me looks like he's a phone strap hanging out of my bag. Ahh! That's what I get for having my husband take a photo *into* the sunlight...

  3. Beautiful! And I love that tree, I've never seen anything like it.

    I am so envious of you for the gorgeous mountain on your horizon!

  4. 1. i want to ride on one of those go carts
    2. Fuji is awesome
    3. That is so cool that the blossoms change color like that!

  5. Alice--I think there must be trees like that in the States, too, since the English name is Cotton Rosemallow. Seems like I've heard of it, but just never seen one. People should plant more of them--they bloom beautifully:)) When I first came here, being an Indiana girl, seeing mountains all the time was just constant "Wow! A mountain! Look, mountains! Ooh! The ocean! Wow!" I still get excited:))

    Falen--I want to ride one of those carts, too! Trying to work out how I could pass myself off as a sixth-grader... And Fuji *is* awesome. My in-laws have a view of it out their bathroom window. *Sigh* Once I realized that those blossoms were actually changing color, and it wasn't just two trees next to each other with their branches mixed up... *swooning with enchantment*...and I can walk by it every day. And notice that on cloudy days that stay cool all day, the flowers don't change color (or, not very much)--which I noticed was also mentioned on the Wiki page. I coulda told them that:))

    Daz--cool link! Wow, that guy speaks almost all the same languages I do. I left a comment--I hope he tells me how to make those stars (haven't seen them before!). I have an idea (probably like the baloon), but not sure how to get the star shape...(wrinkly brow)

  6. The tree is gorgeous, Amy. I've never seen any flower that starts off white and then turns a color. Too cool. The child in me wonders at the beauty and the scientist in me wonders at the mechanism. And of course, both aspects doing their wondering without interference with the other. My only regret is that I can't smell it. Scents are such a large part of my love of the outdoors. There is little better than getting out and just breathing. It's great to be alive.

    But! Ever wonder how it works. Many of the flowers in our garden start off awash in color and fade in the UV of the sun but never to other way. What causes it to go the other way? Hmmm.

    And the name, Drunkard's Cheeks. Perfect. Just perfect. That would be hard to beat.

    Isn't it amazing what really leads to great satisfactions in life. One certainly need no religion, just a garden or a woods or anything that completes you. For me it's nature and family.

    And OK. Perhaps you do live in Japan. I guess those kimonos and Mount Fuji in the background prove that you don't actually live in South Dakota. There goes the betting pool.

    Met you husband at the top o' Fuji eh? Might be a story to tell sometime.

  7. According to wiki, the Cotton Rosemallow is aka the Confederate rose, so it might be restricted to the south.

    Amy, I don't even know how to to the balloon! I feel strangely uneducated now, just 'cause I don't know origami. As if the ever Growing Book List wasn't enough...

  8. Daz--now that you mention it, I remember that from the Wiki article. And, now that I think about it, Tokyo is on roughly the same latitude as Nashville, Tennessee... and Yokohama is 30 miles south of Tokyo... so maybe that's why they bloom around here. We're far enough south. Come to think of it--there are quite a few magnolias around here, too, which I have always thought of as a Southern flower (Steel Magnolias?). Don't worry about origami--or, begin at the beginning and learn with the kids:)) The ones I've put up so far are really easy, but they'll gradually get more difficult. And I'm going to post the balloon at some point (and the Throwing Star--you wanted one of those, right?;-))

    Gotta go serve tea to the baseball coaches (my boys are both on the Maioka Sharks team--I hate pro baseball, but watching 9 and 10 year olds play is *adorable*. Do you know how many times they try to catch the ball, and it rolls right between their legs...:))

  9. You know, KK, that tree doesn't smell. At least, not that I've noticed (and I would notice--I smell everything:)) But that's alright--it more than makes up for lack of smell by changing color over the course of the day, and that apparently has to do with temperature. Or temperature and light--as it warms up over the day, the flowers change color. I noticed on days that were cool and cloudy all day the flowers stayed white (or only made it to very pale pink)...hmmmm.... Actually, I noticed later that the name translates to Drunk(en) Mallow. I translated it "Drunkard's Cheeks" based on what my husband was translating from the bottom of the sign. I could change it up there, but it would lose the suspense:))

    Yup--I really did met him on top of Fuji:)) I'll tell you all the story sometime;-)...